I must confess that in the line of my perfectly normal duties managing one of the UK's best beer-centric
offies, I do occasionally have to speak to periodicals other than this. A few weeks ago, I was talking to a journalist from another publication, who wanted my views on how to market specialist beers - where do you source them, how to get people to buy them, why should retailers bother, that sort of thing. My advice was that if you really wanted to sell more specialist beers, then you should move all of your big-brand beers to the bottom shelf of the chiller, and make a display at eye level of your new chosen products. Customers will always be happy to ask "Where's the Stella/Carlsberg/whatever?" if you move it. That's the purpose of brands: they confer a reliability and comfort that consumers like. But it's unlikely that people will come in and speculatively ask: "I was wondering, do you have any French lager in a Mexican-style bottle, flavoured with lime and tequila?"
Now, I can almost hear the various Blueprinters and brand managers choking on their elevenses when I suggest moving their big names out of eyeline, but too bad. It's the sort of asymmetrical viral guerilla tactics that we will see more of in the 21st century. And on the subject of viral marketing, it's important that you keep your ears pinned back and pay attention, as this story from a friend who works in
"When introduced to the concept at a meeting, I actually misheard the phrase as 'virile marketing', and interpreted this to be a strategy of going out and fucking the opposition, seducing customers, and generally putting your brand about a bit. Maybe someone will consider developing a 'virile division' ... although I'm not sure how long it could be sustained."
Era of wall-to-wall Stella
Anheuser-Busch and Inbev deal now complete, it is hard to view it as anything but a preview for what is going to happen to the industry in general, whether at the production or the retail end of the game. Consolidation is king
industry at present , and big brands are dominating it.
But it is the smaller players - the ones who are increasingly being described as idiosyncratic or eccentric, even though they work to a tried and tested small business model - who are showing the real growth.
Consumers tire of
regularity, and that is why you can make your shop - and your sales - look completely different by making more of a display of less well-known brands.
When a customer says something like: "This is a great little shop, you don't see many of these any more", you can be sure that you've got it right.
I remember a media studies lecture at college
in the early days of satellite and cable TV , which said digital TV could go one of two ways: i t will either be a
with many niche channels focusing on specialist subjects - or it will give us "wall-to-wall Dallas": more of the same,
spread ever thinner. Of course, neither became dominant, and both co-exist
today. But crucially, the distribution lies with an ever smaller number of companies. I wonder if this model will prevail in drinks retailing?